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A prequel to L. Frank Baum's beloved The Wonderful Wizard of Oz - the book which became the 1939 screen classic - this vibrant live-action adventure by director Sam Raimi imagines the back-story of the man who was to become the Wizard of Oz.

Raimi and James Franco team up for the first time since the Spider-Man franchise, with Franco playing Oscar Diggs, an average magician and conman from Kansas. When Diggs' hot-air balloon is swept into a tornado, he promises that if he survives he will become a great man - his chance arrives sooner than expected.

After his crash-landing, Oscar meets Theodora (Kunis), a sweet and innocent witch who believes he is the incarnation of a prophecy about a wizard who falls to earth and frees the Land of Oz from the clutches of an evil witch.

Oscar doesn't miss the opportunity to charm a beautiful lady and grasp a money-making scheme, so happily takes on the role of the wizard. He quickly comes to regret this, discovering he has to kill the powerful evil witch to inherit the riches of the Emerald City, and that the oppressed people of Oz are really counting on him.


There's also the problem of working out which of the three sibling witches is the evil one - Theodora, Glinda (Williams) or Evanora (Weisz).

It's essentially the story of Oscar becoming a good man rather than a great man, and Franco has a twinkle in his eye, and a silly big grin on his face throughout; after all, this is a story about adventure and entertainment, rather than an attempt to create classic cinema.

The rest of the cast also gets in on the humour, with Williams and Weisz in fine witchy form. Williams, in particular, looks like she's having a ball taking a break from the heavy relationship dramas she tends to gravitate towards. The funniest character is the Zach Braff-voiced winged monkey; endearing, loyal and ever so cute, he makes a great sidekick.

Visually, Oz: The Great and Powerful is a delight that caters to all ages. It begins set in 1905 framed in a boxed screen with a black and white palette, but this changes when Oscar lands in Oz and the colourful, wide-screen world inhabited by giant exotic flowers and fairytale castles is revealed.

It's worth noting that Raimi uses 3D to maximum effect, and the odd mutant baboon flying out of the screen may frighten young kids.

There will be those who believe nothing will surpass Judy Garland's Dorothy singing Somewhere Over the Rainbow in the original. But this non-musical high-tech, imaginative film has the magic, heart and humour of a wonderful, if slightly lengthy, new beginning.

Stars: 3.5/5
Cast: James Franco, Michelle Williams, Rachel Weisz, Mila Kunis
Director: Sam Raimi
Running time: 130 mins
Rating: PG (scary scenes)
Verdict: A colourful, fun adventure for the whole family

- TimeOut